Monday, January 24, 2005

Greater Things

One morning during my trip, I read a familiar passage from the Gospel of John which sparked a bunch of different thoughts – and inspired me to write a new sermon on the road.

In John chapter 1, Jesus is calling random people to be his disciples. One of them is Philip. But before Philip leaves town, he runs and finds a friend, Nathaniel, and tells him, “Hey, we’ve found the guy we’ve been waiting for. It’s a man named Jesus – he’s from Nazareth.”
Nathaniel then utters the immortal words, “What good ever came out of Nazareth?”

But Nathaniel decides to have a look-see anyway. When Jesus sees him approaching, he says, “Aha – here is an honorable and truthful Israelite!” Confused, Nathaniel says, “But how do you know who I am?”Jesus answered, “I saw you standing under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

For some reason, this impresses Nathaniel and he says, “Wow! You really are the Messiah!”

I love Jesus’ reaction to Nathaniel’s wide-eyed curiosity. He says, “You believe in me just because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You mean, that’s all the proof you need? You’re impressed by that? Why that’s just a parlor trick!”

After all, this is the gospel which gives us the doubting disciple, Thomas. In fact, I suddenly realized that the stories of Thomas and Nathaniel bracket the Gospel of John. Both are stories of men who are, at first, sarcastic and skeptical about this man named Jesus, but then become true believers.

Anyhow, it does seem that Nathaniel is a bit too credulous. Really, why is he so impressed that Jesus “saw him under the fig tree”? Even Jesus seems taken aback by Nathaniel’s quick faith.

Yet it is at this moment that Jesus says something utterly amazing and life-changing to all who have ears to hear: “But you shall see greater things than these.”

Greater things.

Jesus says to all of us who have believed that we must not rest content in the experience that originally brought us to faith. Nathaniel came to believe in a simple act of recognition. Many of us came to believe in Christ in more dramatic circumstances – an audible voice, born-again experience, altar-call response, eureka moment. But no matter how beautiful and glorious our conversion experience, no matter how transformative or powerful … it is only a drop in the bucket compared to what lies ahead. For we will see greater things.

The small house Methodist churches in Cameroon are impressive for their faith, their dogged endurance, and their growth. It’s amazing how much they’ve grown in just a few short years. I have been celebrating their health and vitality. But those words of Jesus linger in the air … “You shall see greater things than these …"

I suddenly realized that this is not the only time that Jesus sounds this theme in the Gospel of John. In 14:12, he promises his disciples, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these …”

While sitting at my desk in Kumba, pondering these words, I began to wonder if I do not eagerly expect these greater things myself. I don’t think I’m even looking for them. I am satisfied with far too little, with smaller things, with the crumbs of faith and tiny morsels of hope. I am too content with the little signs of hope in Cameroon, with baby steps and miniscule dreams.

But Jesus says, “Pshaw! There are still greater things ahead … you have not even scratched the surface of what will be. Keep going, the best is yet to be. Don’t be satisfied with what you have seen so far, because you are gullible and credulous like Nathaniel. Show a little impatience, please! Yearn, for God’s sake, yearn!”